We all need heroes, and almost 75 years after he came to life, Superman remains one of our most adored and enduring ones.
Superman fans the world over know how the Man of Steel flies in to save the day, and that Kryptonite is his biggest fear. But there is much more to the Superman saga than this well-known lore. A new book, “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero,” by Larry Tye examines everything from Superman’s roots in Jewish texts to his political views, and traces his evolution from the pages of DC Comics to his portrayal on radio and TV and in film.
In “Superman,” Tye writes about how the flying superhero pushed the technical limitations of radio, challenging producers to find ways to signal to listening audiences when he had taken flight or landed. He also traces the development of the Superman franchise and the ensuing multibillion-dollar comic book industry.
But perhaps most interesting is the introduction Tye provides to Superman’s creators and promoters, who invented a hero because they needed one. Both Superman comic book creator Jerry Siegel and comic book entrepreneur Jack Liebowitz lost their fathers at a young age. Tye delves into their lives, their losses and their yearnings for a character who would jump off of the page and make a difference in their world.
Tye, who also is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Satchel,” about baseball legend Satchel Paige, notes that heroes are generally woven into their time and seldom last beyond it. Yet Superman has endured for nearly 75 years alongside a changing American culture and psyche. There’s a good reason for that, Tye believes: More than any other hero, Superman offers us a glimpse into ourselves.
“He sweeps in to solve our problems, no thank-you needed,” Tye writes. “He descended from the heavens to help us discover our humanity. Superman has always embodied our best selves and our collective aspirations. The more jaded the era, the more we have been lured back to his elemental familiarity.”
“Superman” offers a unique breakdown of this enduring character, and some surprises for even the most avid Superman fans.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. Previous shows, including an interview with Tye, are online and available for podcast at boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner.